Friday, September 23, 2016

Unsanctioned Doesn’t Mean Unimportant

You might not think an unsanctioned race is as important as a sanctioned one, but somebody does!
Earlier this year I heard an American road racer say that, in the opinion of his cycling friends, a race without the sanction of USA Cycling isn’t a real race. I was surprised by that viewpoint. USA Cycling is our sport’s national governing body, fair enough, but many prominent races fall outside its purview. In 2013, the UCI asked USA Cycling to be more diligent in its enforcement of Rule 1.2.019, which forbids licensed racers from participating in unsanctioned events. But doing so would have cut off a major source of income for many of our domestic pros. USA Cycling went to bat for them, and the UCI backed down.

That was an acknowledgment of the value of non-USA Cycling events. Yesterday we saw another: USA Cycling and the independent Oregon Bicycle Racing Association announced an agreement that will make it easier for Oregon racers to integrate with USA Cycling-licensed racers from other states. The racing scene in Oregon is strong, and the new agreement recognizes that fact.

USA Cycling sanctions the road, track and cyclocross races of the Wisconsin Cycling Association and the mountain bike races of the Wisconsin Off-Road Series. And these races are popular, but in many corners of Wisconsin there is significant anti-USA Cycling sentiment. Some of our best racers hold no licenses and compete in non-USA Cycling events only. Are they cheating themselves? Hardly. Consider these points:

  • The unsanctioned Wisconsin Endurance Mountain Bike Series consists of 9 races, just 1 less than the far more expensive Wisconsin Off-Road Series, and many people would argue that they run on better trails.
  • With its signature 40-mile mountain bike race, the Trek-sponsored Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival draws 2,100 participants annually and has been a Wisconsin tradition since 1983. 
  • Wausau24 draws more than 200 participants annually for a full weekend of mountain bike racing.
  • The Minnesota Mountain Bike Series holds 2 of its races in Wisconsin and requires a USA Cycling license at the Pro/Expert level only. Licenses are optional for all other racers.
  • Milwaukee’s chapter of the International Mountain Bicycling Association hosts a series of unsanctioned races at a variety of Milwaukee County and Waukesha County trails every Wednesday evening in June, July and August.
  • The unsanctioned Wisport series runs most of the road races (9) and time trials (11) in Wisconsin, far more than the criterium-heavy WCA.
  • A smaller alternative to USA Cycling, American Bicycle Racing sanctions track events, criteriums, road races and mountain bike races throughout Wisconsin, often concurrently with Wisport.

Throw in some gravel grinders and fatbike races and in Wisconsin you could race all year long without a license. Are they real races? Well, first ask yourself whether a USA Cycling-sanctioned race is legitimate when its categories are so narrowly defined that all you have to do to reach the podium is to finish. For Juniors and women, that happens at almost every criterium, cyclocross race and mountain bike race. Meanwhile, the list of winners at the unsanctioned Chequamegon 40 includes cycling legends Greg LeMond and Steve Tilford. How’s that for real?

1 comment:

  1. Good points. With so many different age groups and classes, to get an age group medal is similar to getting a participation award.